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Evening Council Update: Rate Increase Delayed, Hostel Can Stay, City Could Ditch Banks

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

It’s been a marathon session of Austin City Council today, and it’s not over yet. Here are some highlights from this evening. (Check out earlier action here.)

Electricity Rate Hikes Delayed

Austin city council voted 6-1 against a temporary increase in electricity rates. Council members had been considering an interim rate hike while they worked on a larger overhaul of Austin Energy’s rate plan. But the public utility’s general manager, Larry Weis, told council that a temporary increase would complicate billing and take months to implement.

“It wasn’t a ‘next week’ revenue scenario that we were looking at” with the temporary rate hike, Weis told council, “because we still need 90 days no matter what happens to put it into our [billing] system and get it running.”

Council members now plan to adopt an overhaul of Austin Energy’s rate plan at their May 24 meeting.

Red Line Service Extended To Friday, Saturday Nights

You’ll soon be able to ride Capital Metro’s commuter rail line on Friday and Saturday nights. City council authorized staff to finalize an agreement with Cap Metro to keep the red line running until midnight on Friday and Saturday.  The new schedule takes effect Friday, March 27, but because of an existing plan for extended hours during SXSW, MetroRail will run late starting Friday, March 10.

What if no one rides it? Cap Metro will report back to council in about 90 days with some ridership numbers, and they’ll go from there.

Hostel Can Stay in City Park

A decision by Parks and Recreation to terminate a lease with a 47-bed hostel on South Lakeshore Boulevard near Riverside Drive was reversed. Council voted to adopt this resolution, which ordered the city manager to extend the agreement with Hostelling International Austin.

 “The reason we’re here in the first place is because an administrative decision was made with no public input to terminate the hostel agreement,” Council member Laura Morrison said from the dais. “It should be a public process. The interest in maintaining the hostel there is very, very strong.”

Parks and Rec had originally proposed closing the facility because it’s located in a park and “does not serve a park purpose,” department director Sarah Hensley told us on Monday.     

For that reason, council members want to hold a “Chapter 26 hearing,” which is a public forum required under state law if a governmental body wants to use parkland for something other than a park.

“Nobody would be able to mess with you once we got through that process,” Council Member Bill Spelman told the hostel’s executive director Kassi Darakhshan. 

“Occupy” Resolution on Banks Approved

City staff was directed by this resolution – approved unanimously with Mayor Leffingwell absent from the dais – to look into the possibility of moving the city’s financial services to local banks and/or credit unions. As we reported this week, the item was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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